Frequently Asked Questions
Both federal and state law require that all abused and neglected children have someone to represent their best interests in court. In Porter County, Court-Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs) fill that role. The judge makes decisions about what happens to children who need protective services, and relies on the CASA to provide information and independent recommendations to the court based on their unique knowledge of the child’s case. The CASA is the only one whose sole concern is the best interests of the child.
CASA volunteers advocate for the needs of children who are in the juvenile court system due to allegations of parental abuse and/or neglect. Volunteers listen first, then act. They learn about a child’s story by interviewing important people in the child’s life so they can provide context for information that is presented, and bring a more intimate understanding of the child’s needs before the court. The CASA volunteer visits the child every month, and talks with parents and relatives, foster parents, teachers, medical professionals, DCS case managers, and others. The CASA also reviews records pertinent to the case and attends court hearings every 3-6 months to give reports and recommendations to the judge who makes decisions about child.
In the last three years, there has been an average of over 350 children annually who experienced abuse and neglect and needed advocacy by Porter County CASA volunteers. Volunteers advocate for the most vulnerable children in our community, from newborns to children 18 years of age. We advocate for the little girl in elementary school who just watched her mom’s boyfriend overdose two days ago; for the siblings removed from their home last week caught in the middle of their parents’ ugly domestic dispute; for the baby born exposed to drugs; for the toddler whose mother neglected him because of severe depression.
A CASA volunteer enters a child's life when their family is in crisis, and that single volunteer can often help to break the cycle of violence and neglect – not just for one child, but for generations to come.
The majority of children are placed outside of their home and reside with relatives or in foster homes, although some remain with their parents when it is safe to do so. Typically, the children reside in Porter County, however some children may live in the surrounding communities, like in Lake or LaPorte Counties. Where the child lives can change throughout the life of a child’s case.
Most work full time, some are retired, some are raising families, and some do not have children. Some have been volunteering for years, but many are new. Some CASAs are quieter and others more gregarious. CASAs come from all walks of life and need no special background or education. Volunteers must be age 21 or over, and should be responsible people with good judgement who have the ability to remain objective, relate to families and professionals, and communicate orally and in writing. All prospective CASAs must complete a written application and a screening process which includes an interview, written references, and a criminal background check. After acceptance into the program, you will receive a 30-hour pre-service training that equips you with the knowledge and tools you will need to be an effective advocate.
As someone who cares about children, you will naturally have an emotional investment. You will be given the tools you need to help you harness your emotion and passion in powerful advocacy. You will have the support of a CASA staff supervisor and you will not need to worry about making decisions – the judge does this.
There is typically a greater amount of work in the beginning of the case when CASAs are conducting their initial research. On average, a CASA can expect to spend approximately 10-12 hours a month on a case. The time commitment to a case varies depending upon the stage and characteristics of the case. CASAs arrange visits and meetings based on what works for their own schedule.
After the first year of volunteering, a CASA volunteer is requested to participate in 12 hours (over the course of a year) of continuing education. The program provides in-service training throughout the year and self-study options.
CASAs are asked to dedicate themselves to a case until it is closed, and to walk with that child until they are living in a safe, stable, and permanent home. The average case lasts about a year. Being a consistent caring adult in these children’s lives is important given the amount of upheaval and uncertainty they can experience in the child welfare system, and it sends the message that they are important.